The medieval mindset is not dead.

If you happened to be passing a window, and noticed that the glass was distorted  with colorful blobs like oil on water — perhaps something like this…

what would you think?  Probably simply that the pane was flawed and needed to be replaced.  Not so in Russia.  What was seen there in the glass window pictured in the photo above was this:

That is the icon painted “from” the window blobs.  The blobs appeared — or at least were first noticed — on a window at the Church of the Martyr John the Warrior in Novokuznetsk, Siberia, in the year 2000.

Now as one can see, this is rather like a Rorschach test, in which what one sees in random ink blots depends on one’s personal psychological makeup.  Where an ordinary person will see blobs of color or variations in shading — whether on a window, a water-stained wall, or a burnt tortilla, a believer with a medieval mindset will see a miracle.  And that is what happened in this case.  The blobs on the window were considered a miraculous appearance, and when three years later a believer in the city of Kemerov claimed to have had a vision relating that an icon was to be painted from the “image” on the window, it was done by an iconographer named Vladimir Shubenkin.  And now that image is becoming increasingly popular in Russia as a new “miraculous” Marian icon known as the Чаша терпения/Chasha Terpeniya — “The Cup of Patience.”

It was even given an interpretation — that the icon represents the child Jesus being shown the “cup of suffering” representing his future Passion (arrest, torture, crucifixion and death), and so the child is to “drink the sins of humanity.”

Now to be fair, not everyone — even among Russian Orthodox clergy — accepts this new image at present as authentically “miraculous.” But many do, just as some Roman Catholic believers in the town of Rosenberg, near Houston, Texas, saw an appearance of an image of Mary in the pattern on the bricks of a rented house, visible when the porch light was turned on.  That happened as recently as February of 2019, and local believers there have been gathering to pray before the supposedly “miraculous” image of Mary.

This kind of medieval mindset explains a great deal about the history of various”miraculous” icons in Eastern Orthodoxy, and the pre-scientific thinking that gave rise to them.  The Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung would likely say that such people are “projecting” their inner fantasies onto the outer, quite ordinary reality of wall or glass window, so what they are seeing is not what is really there, but rather what is in their own internal imaginations, given outer form by random patterns.  People have an innate tendency to place their own interpretations upon such patterns, as we see in the names and forms given star constellations from ancient times to the present.





Here is a 16th century fresco image from the Dionysiou Monastery on Mount Athos:

As you see, it has no inscription.  If you are clever, you might recognize the traditional depictions of the apostles Peter and Paul in the foreground, but beyond that this image may mystify you.  Who is the little fellow at upper left, and what is he holding?  Well, it is another one of those relic stories so common in Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

The little fellow in the sky at upper left is the Apostle Thomas.  According to one variant of tradition, when the time came for Mary, mother of Jesus, to die, she requested to see the Twelve Apostles.  All of them arrived — brought on clouds in the sky — except Thomas, who was busy preaching in far-off India.  Thomas was only able to set off three days after her “dormition,” her “falling asleep,” the euphemistic term for her death.

Now it happened that while Thomas was on his way to Mary’s death — riding his “cloud taxi” — Mary had ascended to heaven.  She appeared to Thomas and dropped her belt down to him.

When Thomas arrived at the tomb, he showed the belt the ascended Mary had given him to the other apostles.  And that is what we see in this Athos fresco — Thomas, having arrived in his cloud at left, holds out the belt of Mary, showing it to the other apostles.  Mary’s closed tomb is in the foreground.  And of course the tale continues that when the apostles opened the tomb, it was empty — verifying the tale of Thomas that Mary had ascended to heaven.

In other variants of the tale, Thomas was already at the tomb of Mary when she dropped her belt down to him from heaven.  And yet another variant merely says the belt was given to two widows in Jerusalem before Mary’s “dormition.”

Now interestingly, the Vatopedi Monastery on Mount Athos claims to have the belt Mary gave to Thomas.  But one need not go that far.  The Italian town of Prato — just a bit north of Florence — also has what is claimed to be the belt Mary gave to Thomas, kept in the Cathedral.  That is, unless you prefer to see as authentic the segment of the belt said to be kept by the Syriac Orthodox Church at the Church of the Holy Belt in Homs, Syria.  Other places have also claimed to have the relic.  But as we know, relics were a big business in byzantine and medieval times, able to draw many pilgrims and their money to whatever place claimed to own them.  And the enterprising market easily provided what the customer wanted, in the days before carbon dating and DNA testing.

In any case, the belt was supposedly taken to Constantinople in the 5th century, and this Russian icon depicts its placing in the Church of the Khalkoprateia there.  The vyaz inscription at the top says:


“Placing of the Honorable Belt of the Most Pure Mother of God in the Khalkoprateia.”

Later it was supposedly taken to Mount Athos, where one part of it was said to be kept in a cross and the other part in a reliquary (kibotos).

Now as one can tell, these old traditions are confused and contradictory, and certainly should not be taken as literal history, but rather seen as a part of all the fables and tales of commonly false relics that were a standard part of Christian belief and devotion — whether in the “Orthodox” East or Catholic West — in earlier times.

Here is a 16th century painting by the Venetian artist Palma il Vecchio (c. 1480-1528) — Palma the Elder –, showing a “Western” version of the legend of the giving of the belt of Mary (or if you prefer a fancier term, the “Holy Cincture”).  It used to be called the “Holy Girdle,” but the pictures that raised in the mind were too peculiar for that term to be used in modern times.





Here is a Russian icon of Ioann Zlatoust — John the “Golden-mouthed,” better known as John Chrysostom:

(Photo courtesy of Antonio Caldeo)

We are today primarily interested in the text on the book he holds:

(Courtesy of Antonio Caldeo)

Here it is, with the portion seen on the book in bold type:

Вы есте соль земли: аще же соль обуяет, чим осолится? Ни во чтоже будет ктому, точию да и-[зсыпана будет вон и попираема человеки.]

It is the text of Matthew 5:13:

You are the salt of the earth. If however the salt loses its strength, how shall it be salted? It will then be good for nothing but to be t[hrown out and trampled by men.]”

Perhaps you noticed some slight spelling variations in the text.  These are common in old inscriptions.

Now why should this text be included on an icon of John Chrysostom?  Well, most likely because he included a discussion of it in one of his homilies:

What then? did they restore the decayed? By no means; for neither is it possible to do any good to that which is already spoilt, by sprinkling it with salt. This therefore they did not. But rather, what things had been before restored, and committed to their charge, and freed from that ill savor, these they then salted, maintaining and preserving them in that freshness, [633] which they had received of the Lord. For that men should be set free from the rottenness of their sins was the good work of Christ; but their not returning to it again any more was the object of these men’s diligence and travail.

John seems not to have understood the original meaning of the saying, and in fact there is much controversy even today about what was meant by salt losing its strength or savor, because salt remains — well, salt, no matter how old it is.   It does not lose its strength or savor.  Some think that the “salt” mentioned was not at all what we know as salt, but rather a kind of substance used to fertilize the fields — a fertilizer that could lose its strength.  But no firm and definitive solution to the puzzle of this text seems yet to have been found — so it remains obscure.


Those of you familiar with cinematic history will know the famous 1938 black and white movie Alexander Nevsky, with its remarkable musical score by Sergei Prokofiev.  It was directed by Sergei Eisenstein.  Those of you who have not seen it may watch the film (with English subtitles) here:

Many of those familiar with the movie have no idea that Alexander Nevsky/Nevskiy (Александр Невский ) is also considered a saint in Russian Orthodoxy, and there are many icons of him.  Here is one example, from the year 1880:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Two icons are above him:  the “Iverskaya” Marian icon on the left, and the standard “Lord Almighty” icon of Jesus at right.

Alexander Nevskiy was a prince in the great northern city of Novgorod during the time of the Mongol invasions in the early 1200s.  At that time Eastern Orthodox Novgorod was threatened on the West by Roman Catholic Swedes — the “Latins.”

Before Alexander went out to battle the Swedes, he went into the Church of Holy Wisdom to pray, and when he came out, he is said to have roused his men by saying,

Не в силе Бог, а в правде. Иные — с оружием, иные — на конях, а мы Имя Господа Бога нашего призовем!

God is not in power, but in truth.  Others are in armor — others are on horses — but we shall call on the name of our Lord God.

Tradition relates that one of his soldiers saw a kind of vision — a boat floating upon the water, and in the boat — dressed in crimson robes — were the first two “Russian” saints, the Princes Boris and Gleb. That was considered a sign that God was with Novgorod against its enemies, and Alexander and his forces defeated the Swedes in a battle at the Neva River on Juy 15, 1240.  That of course gave him his title — Alexander “of the Neva” — Alexander Nevskiy.  At the time, Alexander is said to have been only 19.  There is some doubt among historians as to the historical authenticity of this victory over the Swedes, but it is part of the traditional tale of Alexander.

To film buffs, however, his most famous battle was that against the Teutonic Knights, whom he met at frozen Lake Peipus/Peipsi — which the Russians call  Чудское озеро/Chudskoe ozero –on April 5th of 1242.  I won’t tell you what happened there, because if you have not seen the Eisenstein movie, I don’t want to give a “spoiler.”

Alexander developed good relations with the Mongol Golden Horde, and paid regular tribute as a vassal prince.  He was made Grand Prince (Velikiy Knyaz) of Vladimir in 1252, and died some 12 years later.  Shortly before his death he became a monk and put on a monk’s habit.

Alexander was officially “glorified” as a saint of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow in 1547, and is commonly given the title Благоверный Великий Князь/Blagovernuiy Velikiy Knyaz’ — “Pious/Orthodox Great Prince.”

There is of course much more to his traditional “life,” and this is just a brief summary.

As the centuries passed, Alexander became an important national symbol for Russia.  He is depicted in two quite different ways.   Early icons and those of the Old Believers show him dressed as a monk, as in this 16th century Moscow icon that titles him Blagovernuiy Knyaz’ Velikiy Alexandr Nevskiy Chudotvorets — “Pious Prince Great Alexander Nevskiy, Wonderworker.”

Post-schism State Church iconography, however, favored showing him in military and royal garb — often standing by a table on which lay his scepter and crown, as in this example from the late 19th-beginning of the 20th century:

It is only in recent years that the Russian Orthodox Church — the State Church, that is — began advocating a return to the old iconography depicting him as a monk.  Old Believer icons always preferred showing Alexander in a monk’s habit.



Here is a well-painted icon of two saints — one very famous, and the other rather obscure:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Above and between them is a third image, that of the Old Testament Trinity.

It is easy to recognize Nicholas the Wonderworker (Nicholas of Myra) at left;  there is a long posting in this site’s archives about him.  But what about the fellow on the right?

Well, he is a good lesson in how to identify unfamiliar saints.  Let’s look more closely:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

We can see that his title is:
The last word is obviously abbreviated.

So what we have is:

Prepodobnuiy Ioann Ku=
“Venerable John Ku=”

We might think that hyphen at the end is what remains of a damaged letter, but if we look at the inscription over Nicholas, which has it too, we see that it is not:

In the Nicholas inscription, we see the same hyphen at the end of the abbreviation ЧУДОТ=[ВОРЕЦ] / CHUDOT=[VORETS], meaning “Wonderworker.”  So we can tell it is just the writer’s way of indicating that the end of a word is omitted.

We know the mysterious fellow at right is a monk; we can see that from his clothing, as well as from the Prepodbnuiy title).  But what follows the Ku=?   When we know that, we will know also just which Ioann/John he is.

If we look in a general list of  Eastern Orthodox saints whose secondary titles begin with Ku- in Church Slavic (or in Russian), we find only two:

ИОАНН КУКУЗЕЛЬ/Ioann Kukuzel’, born in the 13th century and educated in Constantinople; he is known in English as John Koukouzelis;
ИОАНН КУЩНИК/Ioann Kushchnik — “Ioann the Hut-guy.”

The next step is to look at the iconography of both, to see if we can determine which this icon depicts.  We can do that either by looking at icons of each man, or by looking in old podlinniki (painter’s manuals), etc., to see how each is painted.

If we do that, we quickly find Ioann Kukuzel has a beard, so we can eliminate him.

On examining the iconography of Ioann Kushchnik, however, we see that, like the fellow in this icon, he looks young and he has no beard.  Here is a depiction of him from the month of January in an old painted Menaion:

So it looks like we have our man.  We have identified the saint beside Nicholas as Ioann Kushchnik.  In Greek he is called Ιωάννης ὁ Καλυβίτης — Ioannes ho Kalybites — or in modern Greek, Kalyvites.

Now a καλύβα/kalyba in Greek is a hut or cottage, so we can see that the literal meaning of his Slavic title — Ioann the Hut-guy — is taken from the Greek, in which a καλυβίτης is a guy who lives in a hut or cottage.  Of course “Hut Guy” sounds very colloquial in English, so religious writings prefer the more formal “Hut Dweller.”

His hagiography relates that Ioann Kushchnik/Kalybites was born to a very wealthy family in Constantinople in 460 c.e.

It happened that when Ioann was twelve, his family had as guest a monk who was on a pilgrimage to holy sites and was headed for Jerusalem.  The boy Ioann was fascinated by the monk, and asked the fellow to take him along with him to the monastery, when he came back from Jerusalem.

During his absence, Ioann asked his parents for a copy of the Gospels, and received a very ornate and expensive copy, richly bound and ornamented with gold and pearls, which he greatly treasured.

When the traveling monk stopped again at Ioann’s house on his way back to the monastery, he secretly took the boy along with him — without the knowledge of Ioann’s parents.  They would not have approved.  His parents had no idea what had become of their son.

Living at the monastery, Ioann in his piety soon outshone the other monks.  He was fanatically ascetic, eating only on Sundays, and he became quite thin.

Meanwhile, his parents — unaware of where he had disappeared to — thought Ioann dead.

Eventually, after six years had passed, Ioann asked permission to return to his home, and received it (the old accounts say this was a temptation of the Devil).  When he got there, however, he was so changed in appearance — emaciated, and dressed as a beggar — that his own parents did not recognize him, and he did not identify himself as their son.  Instead, his former servants asked permission of his father to let the poor fellow live in a little hut at the edge of their garden.  Ioann took up residence there — still unrecognized.  One day his mother happened to notice the filthy beggar in front of his hut, and she found the sight so unappealing that she told him he must not leave his hut if he wanted to continue living there.   Because of his strange and disgusting lifestyle, Ioann received a lot of verbal abuse from his parents and from the servants during the three years he stayed in the hut.

At the end of those three years, Jesus supposedly appeared to him, telling him that his time was up, and that he would die in three days.  Ioann asked for the lady of the house to visit him — his mother.  She thought the request of the disgusting beggar strange, but nonetheless came to see him.  He showed her the valuable book of the Gospels they had given him years before, and so he identified himself to his parents as their missing son.  Then he passed away.

There was a lot of admiration expressed in Eastern Orthodox hagiography for various saints who lived what to us now seem twisted and masochistic, self-damaging lifestyles.  And of course the notion of a monk secretly taking a boy away from his parents would appall us.  But medieval notions were different, and in Russia, a medieval mindset lasted right into the 19th century, and in some places and persons it still survives even today.




Because of the geometric “fake enamel” border on this icon, as well as its stamped and engraved gold background, you should easily recognize this icon as being from the late 19th to beginning of the 20th century:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

It depicts two saints holding an icon of Mary between them.  A monastery is in the background.

First, let’s look at the Marian icon.  It is one of those most easy to identify.  It shows Mary reading a book.  This icon type is called the Kaluzhskaya/Калужская (“of Kaluga”).

The origin story of this icon relates that in 1748, two girls were looking through the things storied in an attic on the estate of the boyar Vasiliy Kondratievich Khitrov, which was located at the village of Tinkhov, some seven miles from Kaluzhka, which is in the province of Kaluga.

The two girls came across a bundle of linen, and on unfolding one of them, they found a canvas on which the image of a woman reading a book was depicted.  The one girl said to her boisterous friend Evdokia that the image looked like an abbess — a hegumena.  Evdokia, full of youthful mischief and irreverence, spat on the image, saying, Вот как я боюсь твоей игуменьи/Vot kak ya boius’ tvoey igumen’i — “Here’s how I fear your abbess!”

As soon as the words left her lips, she fell on the floor, foaming at the mouth and writhing in convulsions.  She could neither see nor speak, and when carried from the attic, everyone thought she was dying.

That night, Mary appeared to Evdokia’s parents in a dream, telling them that their daughter had not insulted an image of an abbess, but rather an image of Mary herself.  She told them to tell the local priests, and to have the girl sprinkled with holy water the next morning, and she would be healed — and the image of Mary would become an intercessory icon for Kaluga.

As these stories typically go, the parents carried out the instructions and the girl was cured.  The icon from the attic was put in a frame, and set in the place of veneration in the house.

Not long after, a deaf servant named Prokhor saw Mary in a dream, and she told him to pray before the newly-found icon.  He did so continuously, and became so tired he fell into a sleep from which he did not wake for two days.  As he slept, pus poured from his ears, and when he finally awoke, he could hear.  This was followed by the healing of the boyar’s daughter, to whom Mary also appeared in a dream, telling her to venerate her icon.

Because of these events, the icon was recognized as miracle-working, and the boyar had the image placed in the Church of the Birth of the Virgin in Kaluzhka.  There a paralytic named Petelin was said to have been able to walk after veneration the icon, and in thanks had a silver icon cover placed on the image.

In the year 1771 there was a plague, and the fearful inhabitants of the city of Kaluga asked the archimandrite of the monastery to have the icon of Mary brought from the village of Kaluzhka.  The icon was carried in procession through the streets of the city, and the plague is said to have abated.

The icon also participated in the legends that arose out of the Napoleonic invasion of Russia in 1812.  It is said that French prisoners taken in the Kaluga region claimed to have seen the icon floating in the air, surrounded by shining men, at the time when they were defeated and captured.

So that, in brief, is the tale of the Kaluzhskaya icon of Mary.  One can see from the depiction that it is likely borrowed from Western European depictions of Mary at the Annunciation, which as early as the ninth century began showing her with a book, over time interpreted either a psalter or the supposed prophecy from Isaiah 7:14 that a virgin would give birth.  This gradually replaced the spindle she commonly held in earlier iconography.

Now to the two saints holding the Kaluzhskaya icon:

That on the right is Tikhon Kaluzhskiy — Tikhon of Kaluga.  He was a 15th century monk who is said to have come from Kiev/Kiyev, and settled in a place roughly halfway between Kaluga and Meduin, which accounts for him also being called Тихон Медынский — Tikhon Meduinskiy — Tikhon of Medyn.  There he is said to have lived inside a huge, hollow oak tree, which is why many of his icons show him standing inside a tree, as in this example:

In both his “tree” icons and in the first icon shown above, he commonly bears a scroll with the inscription

Господи Прииди и Виждь и Посети Виноград Сей…
Gospodi Pridi i Vizhd’ i Poseti Vinograd Sei….
“Lord, come and see and visit this vine….”

It comes from Psalm 79 (80 in the KJV):

Боже сил, обратися убо, и призри с Небесе и виждь, и посети виноград сей,
и соверши и, eгоже насади десница Твоя, и на сына человеческаго, eгоже укрепил еси Себе.

“God of power, turn now, and see from Heaven, and behold, and visit this vine, and restore that which your right hand has planted, and on the son of man, who is made strong for yourself.”

Now to the saint on the left side:

As you can see, he holds an axe.  One might think it represents him as a monastery builder, but that is not the case here.  Look at his feet.  They are bare.  This fellow was in fact a holy fool, a “fool for Christ’s sake,” that odd category of saint one finds in Eastern Orthodoxy, and particularly in Russian orthodoxy, where all sorts of odd fellows pop up in the calendar of saints.  Holy fools usually have the title Блаженный/Blazhennuiy — “Blessed.”  So this guy’s full title would be:

Блаженный Лаврентий, Христа ради юродивый, Калужский
Blazhennuiy Lavrentiy, Khrista radi iuodivuiy, Kaluzhskiy
“Blessed Lavrentiy, Fool for Christ’s Sake, of Kaluga.”

In the early 1500s, Kaluga was the domain of a certain Prince Simeon, who is said to have treated the fool Lavrentiy with kindness.  The Kaluga Chronicle relates that in 1512 Kaluga was attacked by Crimean Tatars colloquially known as “Hagarites.”  The Prince and citizens went out to fight them.  Lavrentiy, in the house of the Prince, suddenly shouted, Дайте мне вострый топор, псы напали на князя Симеона, надобно оборонить его от псов» “Give me a sharp axe!  The dogs have attacked Prince Simeon!  I must defend him from the dogs!”  And grabbing an axe, he rushed out to join the battle.  Prince Simeon suddenly found Lavrentiy at his side, shouting encouragement, and from that moment the battle is said to have turned, and the Tatars were defeated.  The victory was attributed to the presence of Lavrentiy — and that is why he is commonly shown holding an axe in icons, as well as barefooted, because he walked with bare feet all through the year.   Lavrentiy became known as a “wonderworker,” with other miracles were attributed to him.

Now as you can see, today’s icon is all about Kaluga — the Kaluzhskaya icon of Mary, St. Tikhon of Kaluga, and the Holy Fool Lavrentiy of Kaluga.  So this is a very regional icon.  Even the monastery in the background is a rather stylized representation of the Monastery of the Holy Dormition — also called Tikhonova Pustuin/Pustyn — said to have been founded in the Kaluga region by Tikhon Kaluzhskiy in 1485.



In addition to painted icons, many icon workshops also produced cloth banners.  These were essentially icon images on cloth, frequently a mixture of needlework and painting.  Such banners were used in religious processions and for other church purposes.

There was, however, another category of banner — military banners.  Given the mutual relationship between Church and State in old Russia, these banners too often bore religious images, but with a military purpose.

In battle, such a banner became the symbol of the army or regiment possessing it.  When soldiers assembled for battle, their banner would usually be taken out of its protective travel storage,  be affixed to a tall staff, and then the whole placed upright in a prominent place like a hill.  The banner  — given its symbolism — would be heavily protected during the battle, and if the soldiers fighting under it were unsuccessful, the banner would be captured and taken by the opposing army as a trophy of war — signifying the defeat of the opposition

Such a military banner was originally called a styag (Стяг), plural Стяги (Styagi).  Near the end of the 1300s, Russian banners commonly bore the face of Jesus in the “Not Made by Hands” type:

That is when the term znamyona (знамёна), singular znamya (знамя) also came into use for them.   Both styag and znamya were used until the beginning of the 17th century, at which time znamya (banner, pennant, ensign, standard) became the common term.  As you may have guessed, the word znamya is related to znamenie (“sign”), which we have seen as the name of an important Marian icon type — the Znamenie Mother of God, the “Sign” Mother of God.

Today — thanks to Karin Tetteris of the Swedish Army Museum in Stockholm, Sweden, we will take a look at some old Russian military banners that show very clearly the importance of Eastern Orthodox iconography in their design.

Here, for example, is what remains of a silk infantry banner or ensign made in Kiev in 1693-4 for a regiment of Moscow streltsy under the command of colonel Alexey Lavrent’evich Obukhov. The paintings were made by the local artist Pyotr Kirilovich Tichovbon. It was taken as war booty by Swedish troops in the battle of Saladen, near Saločiai, Lithuania on March 19, 1703, part of the so-called Great Northern War.   In English common usage, such a banner was referred to as the “colors,” which led to the expression “striking the colors,” meaning to surrender, particularly in naval jargon.

(Courtesy of the Swedish Army Museum, Stockholm)

In the center we see the double-headed Russian eagle — symbol of the Russian Empire, and at its center is St. George slaying the dragon.  You will recall that George was an extremely popular military saint.

At the top is an image of the Coronation of Mary, with Jesus (the Son) at left, and God the Father at right, with the Holy Spirit as dove just above the crown.

Mary holds an open book:

Here is the text on it:

Мною царие царствуют[ъ]
Mnoiu Ts[a]rie ts[a]rstvuiut”

It is from Proverbs 8:15:

Mnoiu tsarie tarstvuiut”, i silniy pishut” pravdu

By me kings reign, and the powerful decree [literally ‘write’] justice.

The infantry banner below was made in 1693-4 for a regiment of Moscow streltsy under the command of colonel Boris Fedorovich Dementiev. It too was taken by Swedish troops in the battle of  Saladen, near Saločiai, Lithauania in 1703.

Readers here should recognize the iconography:

(Courtesy of the Swedish Army Museum, Stockholm)

At the top we see two angels, and between them is the image of Christ Immanuel:

Below him is  the main image, which we have seen before as an icon type:

We can identify it if we look more closely at the mounted figure on the left:

We can see he holds a club — so, combined with the angel at right holding a sword, we can recognize it as the same type we saw earlier in a fresco from the Dechani Monastery in Serbia — the image of the Prophet Balaam and the Archangel Michael:

Michael is, of course, considered the Chief Commander of the Armies of Heaven, so an important military figure — and here he stops the Prophet Balaam in his tracks, a sign of his supposed power to halt advances — though of course Balaam was not a soldier.

The reluctant ass of Balaam is depicted in a quite pleasant way:

In other military banners from other sources, we sometimes find a similar image of the Archangel Michael standing sword in hand, but in this case the other figure is not riding but kneeling, and he is not Balaam, but rather Isus/Iisus Navin — Joshua, son of Nun, the military leader in the Old Testament who fought the legendary Battle of Jericho.

Perhaps the oldest Russian military banner in the collection of the Swedish Army Museum is this silk example, a large cavalry banner made in the Kremlin workshops, probably in the first half of 17th century or possibly even late 16th. It was taken as a war trophy by the Polish army in a battle near Smolensk, on June 5, 1654. Then, when the Swedish army took Warsaw in 1655, the flag was captured by Swedish troops. It is 5 meters wide and 1,63 m high:

(Courtesy of the Swedish Army Museum, Stockholm)

It depicts a gathering of saints at left, looking up to Jesus, who blesses them from Heaven:

The figure in the forefront at right is St. Nicholas/Nikolai, an extremely popular saint in Russia:

On the right side of the banner is an angel with seraphim.

Finally, here is another banner taken by Swedish troops in the Battle of Saladen, near Saločiai, Lithuania, in 1703.  It was made in 1695 for a regiment of Moscow streltsy under the command of Colonel Semyon Matveevich Krokov. It was taken by Swedish troops in the battle of Saladen, near Saločiai, Lithauania, in 1703:

(Courtesy of the Swedish Army Museum, Stockholm)

The main image is that of the “Sign” (Znamenie) Mother of God, with the symbols of the Four Evangelists, and accompanied by four saints.  You will recall that the “Sign” icon is one of the famous Russian “palladium” icons, meaning it was considered a protector of cities, and was thought to have the ability to repel enemies.

Above the “Sign” type is the image of  God the Father (Lord Sabaoth), with the Holy Spirit as a dove on his breast:

Those who would like further information on banners in the Swedish Army Museum may wish to contact Karin Tetteris at this address:

Box 14095, 104 41 Stockholm
Street address: Riddargatan 13
Tel 08 51 95 63 82 Fax 08 662 68 31